Today, Japan suffered the worst earthquake ever recorded in the archipelago, of magnitude 8.9, followed by powerful aftershocks and a devastating 10-meter tsunami wave filled with boats and buildings that has killed at least hundreds of people and triggered a tsunami alert around the Pacific Ocean.
The quake struck at 2:46 pm local (11:46 pm in Costa Rica), 24.4 km deep and a hundred kilometers off the coast of Miyagi Prefecture and 380 km north of Tokyo, according to the USGS. This is the 5th largest earthquake in the world since 1900, when magnitude was first recorded.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna reported that the four Japanese nuclear power plants closest to the area were knocked off and on high alert.
The Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, had previously indicated that the quake had not caused any radioactive leakage power, but the cooling systems for the reactors have been affected. There is an evacuation order of a three-kilometer radius around the Fukushima nuclear reactor.
In Tokyo, buildings shook for two minutes and most of the inhabitants rushed into the streets, while the quake triggered over a dozen fires. Some four million people are without electricity.
A tsunami of 10 meters (30 feet) then swept the coast of Sendai (northeast), other parts of the Pacific coast were also hit by waves of several meters. As of this report, 200 to 300 bodies have been found on the coast of Sendai.
Television images captured from a helicopter showed cargo ships, cars and tons of debris carried by a giant tidal wave of brown water crashing against the coast. Whirlpools are forming in the oceans off the coast. There are also reports of mudslides, rivers overflowing, and flooding.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center has issued warnings about a tsunami hazard in most of the Pacific from Australia to South America and Central America.
“An earthquake of this magnitude has the potential to generate a devastating tsunami, able to hit the nearby coast in a few minutes and further away in a matter of hours,” the Center said in a statement.
Philippine authorities and the U.S. island of Hawaii and Guam residents ordered to evacuate exposed coastal areas.
Tsunami alerts were also declared in Chile and Ecuador, although there is no order to evacuate.
“The jolt was so strong we had to hold on to what we could to not fall over,” one official in Kurihara, a town hard hit by the earthquake.
“We could not escape, because the tremors continued,” the official added. The shaking lasted for several minutes and was followed by several aftershocks, occurring very quickly after the initial jolt.
The quake caused a drop in the Tokyo Stock Exchange and the yen depreciated against the dollar. Insurers and reinsurers around the world felt the impact of the earthquake. In Frankfurt, shares of the first global reinsurer, Munich Re, fell 4.71%.
Costa Rica awaiting tsunami
The National Emergency Commission (CNE) has declared a warning against the risk of tsunami in the Pacific coast. All the Pacific Cantons of Costa Rica are on a green alert and have emergency response teams ready in case they are needed.
The tsunami is expected to hit Costa Rica around 4pm. It is difficult to predict the exact time and intensity of a tsunami, according to tsunami experts, so it is better to be on alert, overly cautious, and ready to respond in case of disaster.
The tsunami has already started to hit the coast of Hawaii. These waves “are not going to be a major damaging event” but will cause scattered damage, according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.
*UPDATE: The US Embassy in San Jose has released a message urging “U.S. citizens on the Pacific coast to take all necessary precautions, including but not limited to moving inland, away from low-lying coastal areas. All U.S. citizens in Costa Rica, regardless of their location, should contact their family and friends in the United States to give an update about their welfare and whereabouts.”